MUSKOGEE, Okla. — City councilors and Muskogee County commissioners escalated the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, adopting a task force's recommendation that directs Muskogee County residents to "stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel."

The direction applies to all residents except those who are engaged in "essential activities." The activities deemed essential include such things as providing or obtaining health care, medical supplies and medication, and consumer goods necessary to safely maintain and operate households. 

Local elected leaders adopted the resolution during an historic joint emergency meeting of the Muskogee County Board of Commissioners and Muskogee City Council. The meeting was convened as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 164 — a 54.72% increase from the 104 reported the day before — with five deaths and 59 patients hospitalized. 

In addition to the countywide shelter-in-place order, the resolution includes directives that require "essential businesses" establish and implement controls "necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace." Those controls include the enforcement of social distancing, permitting employees to work from home, and complying with all other public health guidelines issued in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The resolution requires all nonessential businesses in Muskogee County close  in accordance with directives announced Tuesday by Gov. Kevin Stitt, whose order applies to counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases. Examples of nonessential businesses include bars and nightclubs, gymnasiums and fitness centers, theaters, bowling alleys and skating rinks, and other entertainment venues that typically attract groups of more than 10 people.

Members of the task force — led by Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge — proposed these extraordinary steps because the lack of widespread testing means "there are a significant number of unreported cases locally." Task force members expressed concern that residents may have been exposed to — and contracted — the novel coronavirus unknowingly and continue to spread it "through normal social contact."

"I think it is critical for members of our community, whether they be at home or whether they be at a business …, to do their part," Loge said. "We have many people who are in dire need for our community to do this right now — we cannot wait two weeks, when our hospitals are overflowing and we are begging for help."

District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke said the state set up a website after Stitt expanded his emergency orders to include the closure of nonessential businesses in counties where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed. That website — http://tinyurl.com/suz33eu — provides a registration form for essential businesses and links to information that details what types of businesses are considered essential and nonessential. 

"I'm told that people who work for these essential businesses will likely need to be able to provide some sort of 'proof of employment' going forward," Doke said. "I'm still working on getting details, so please stay tuned."